Broward’s Port Everglades sprucing up cruise terminals for upgrade

As the Port of Miami tackles major infrastructure improvements, Port Everglades, its formidable competitor just 25 miles north, is pursuing big projects of its own, including $54 million in upgrades to its cruise terminals.

Port Everglades agreed to spruce up four of its terminals in 2010 when it signed an agreement with Carnival Corp. guaranteeing the Miami-based cruise giant would funnel a total of 25.5 million passengers through the port by the end of 2025.

With more and larger ships using its facilities, Port Everglades is revamping the cruise terminals so that outbound passengers can begin boarding even as arriving passengers leave the ship from another bridge. Baggage facilities and ground transportation will be improved to speed up boarding and disembarking, according to Port Everglades, the world’s second largest cruise port in passengers, behind No. 1 PortMiami, its new name.

Big plans are also in the works for the cargo side of the business at Port Everglades, which like PortMiami operates as an enterprise fund without county tax dollars.

PortMiami is well ahead of Port Everglades on deep dredge plans, with a goal of being ready by 2014 to accommodate larger ships that are expected to begin crossing the expanded Panama Canal, although the project is in limbo pending an environmental challenge.
Port Everglades is studying such a project, angling to get approval and funding to deepen its port to 50 feet in hopes of competing for that same traffic by 2017.

“It all makes very good business sense to go forward with the expansion plans’’ for cruise and cargo, said Steven Cernak, who in March took the helm as chief executive officer and director for Port Everglades, succeeding Phil Allen, who retired. “We’re trying to help existing customers to grow.’’

Behind the push to deepen the ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale is the notion that larger ships carrying goods from Asia will be able to cut transportation time and costs by using East Coast ports rather than delivering goods to the West Coast, where they are sent across country by rail.

Experts differ over how attractive South Florida will prove to be for such super cargo vessels, since it is far south of many key population areas. Still, port officials in both Miami and Fort Lauderdale believe the region will be able to grab a slice of the action once larger ships begin transiting the Panama Canal.

“There will be larger vessels rolling in here,’’ said Cernak, who was previously port director at the Port of Galveston. “It’s all about economies of scale.’’

Another key project about to break ground at Port Everglades is a freight rail link aimed at moving container cargo between ship and rail to make commerce more efficient. The port is working with the Florida East Coast Railway on the $72-million intermodal project, which is slated to be completed by late 2013. To make way for the rail line, the Florida Department of Transportation is building an overpass at Eller Drive, a $42-million project.

Also in the plans are five new cargo berths — bringing the total to 38 — to dramatically boost the port’s capacity.

“There are a lot of ports in expansion mode,’’ Cernak said. “This port is right in there with them.’’

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